Tips for Disability Awareness

Appropriate Language

People with disabilities are people first. The Americans with Disabilities Act officially changed the way people with disabilities are referred to and provided the model. The person first and then the disability. This emphasizes the person and not the disability.

  • Positive Example: "Emily, who has Asperger's Syndrome, will be in our class for this week."
  • Negative Example: "The blind student reads using Braille"

Do use the word disability when referring to someone who has a physical, mental, emotional, sensory, or learning impairment.

Do not use the word handicapped. A handicap is what a person with a disability cannot do.

Avoid labeling individuals as victims, or the disabled, or names of conditions. Instead, refer to people with disabilities or someone who has epilepsy.

Avoid terms such as wheelchair bound. Wheelchairs provide access and enable individuals to get around. Instead, refer to a person who uses a wheelchair or someone with a mobility impairment.

When it is appropriate to refer to an individual's disability, choose the correct terminology for the specific disability. Use terms such as quadriplegia, speech impairment, hearing impairment, dwarfism, or specific learning disability.

As recommended by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and current medical terminology

Appropriate Interaction

When introduced, offer to shake hands. People with limited hand use or artificial limbs can usually shake hands. It is an acceptable greeting to use the left hand for shaking.

Treat adults as adults. Avoid patronizing people who use wheelchairs by patting them on the shoulder or touching their head. Never place your hands on a person's wheelchair as the chair is a part of the body space of the user.

If possible, sit down when talking to a person who uses a wheelchair so that you are at the person's eye level.

Speak directly to the person with a disability. Do not communicate through another person. If the person uses an interpreter, look at the person and speak to the person, not the interpreter.

Offer assistance with sensitivity and respect. Ask if there is something you might do to help. If the offer is declined, do not insist.

If you are a sighted guide for a person with a visual impairment, allow the person to take your arm at or above the elbow so that you guide rather than propel.

When talking with a person with a speech impairment, listen attentively, ask short questions that require short answers, avoid correcting, and repeat what you understand if you are uncertain.

When first meeting a person with blindness, identify yourself and any others who may be with you.

When speaking to a person with a hearing impairment, look directly at the person and speak slowly. Avoid placing your hand over your mouth when speaking. Written notes may be helpful for short conversations.